More on the Brothers Hitchens

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

One section of my review of Larry Taunton’s new book on Christopher Hitchens has touched off a very intense reaction from Christopher Hitchens’s surviving younger brother, Peter. He was the only member of the Hitchens family to speak to Larry Taunton, and he receives lavish praise in the course of Taunton’s book as a better man unjustly overshadowed.

Peter Hitchens has objected on Twitter and in his blog to my use of the phrase “bitter public attack” to describe the 2001 article he wrote about Christopher Hitchens.  It also evidently bothers him that I described this 2005 response by Christopher Hitchens to him as forbearing.

There is no dispute that Peter Hitchens's 2001 article triggered an angry and protracted quarrel between the brothers.

What Peter Hitchens seems to be claiming is that this quarrel was an unfounded overreaction on Christopher’s Hitchens part. Terms like “bitter,” on the one side, and “forbearing,” on the other, are therefore misplaced or worse.

I feel that even this much exposition has already occupied more space than can be justified, but given his repeated demands for a response, I’ll say three things:

1) I am no mind reader. If Peter Hitchens insists that “bitter” is the wrong word to describe his state of mind in 2001, I cannot gainsay him. I hereby withdraw the word and instead submit the article in question to the reader’s judgment, to be characterized as the reader will.

2) I remain amazed that more than a decade after the quarrel ended—and almost five years' after Christopher’s premature death—Peter Hitchens feels the need to insist that he was wholly in the right and his late brother wholly in the wrong. Clearly, there were psychic injuries inflicted on both sides, but … yikes.

3) Where Peter Hitchens is correct, and I was mistaken, is that I described Christopher Hitchens’ 2005 article was his first published response to Peter. Peter Hitchens directs my attention to this 2003 letter to the editor in Commentary. And indeed, Christopher Hitchens’s words there are very harsh. I was unaware of the 2003 exchange, and I regret the error.